Across Southeast Alaska, our economy is driven by a variety of sectors, built on tourism and cruise ships, seafood and processing, mining and timber. Over the past several decades, we’ve built a thriving business community across the region, trends that are echoed across the state. As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, our economy emerges too, building back from the losses we experienced over the past two years. However, one bedrock of our economy has helped support and ensure the survival of a significant portion of our business activity, both in Southeast and statewide: our state’s salmon hatcheries.
From commercial fishing to sport fishing enterprises and tourism, Alaska’s salmon hatcheries are good for business. The Southeast region and the state of Alaska are known for their wealth of salmon stocks and extensive fishing opportunities. People are drawn here by those opportunities, either in the form of seasonal workers, tourists or entrepreneurs who choose to make their homes and build their businesses here. Many of our businesses throughout Southeast and across the state would not exist without salmon hatcheries and the support they provide to our wild salmon stocks.
Statewide, Alaska’s salmon hatcheries generate $600 million in economic output each year, contributing to roughly one-quarter of the value of our state’s salmon harvests. Wholesale value of hatchery-born salmon averages more than $350 million each year. Diving deeper, hatcheries are responsible for nearly 5,000 jobs and more than $200 million in labor income annually. This can be broken out into $95 million in labor income related to commercial fishing, $82 million in processing and $25 million with hatchery operations. In Southeast alone, hatcheries account for nearly 2,000 jobs and more than $90 million in wages each year. Total hatchery contributions to economic output in our region come in at more than $230 million each year.
In 2021, nearly 70 million hatchery-born salmon returned to Alaska waters, resulting in an estimated ex-vessel value of $142 million, making up one-quarter of commercial harvest ex-vessel value across the state. As the 2022 season comes to a close, forecasted returns are slightly higher or even with 2021 numbers. In Southeast, we saw a return of more than eight million hatchery-born salmon, resulting in an estimated ex-vessel value of $32 million, which made up over a quarter of total ex-vessel value in Southeast.
The economic activity and revenue generated as a result of hatchery operations makes up significant added value that our businesses, communities, and broader economy depend on. As hatcheries work to supplement – not replace – wild-born fish stocks, they ensure long-term sustainability of Alaska’s fish resources – and the long-term survival of our businesses that depend on them.
Michelle O’Brien is the executive director of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. She has worked with the business and nonprofit sectors in Ketchikan and across Alaska.